More Guamanians abusing public assistance programs - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

More Guamanians abusing public assistance programs

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On Guam there are nearly 15,000 households under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, accounting for over 47,000 people. But the Department of Public Health continues to encounter dozens of cases of abuse in the program. Just this week alone, nearly three dozen people were disqualified from SNAP and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program after they were found to have intentionally violated the program rules.

"For one reason or another, it could be income, not reporting on time, it could also be households moving in and out, so because it makes real big difference for eligibility purposes, whether you have five in the household or four," said Francis Damian, an investigation and recoupment supervisor for Public Health's Bureau of Management Support. He says trafficking or crediting nonfood items with their SNAP EBT cards is also a common disqualification.

"It's unfortunate," he added. "There's always going to be the 1% of the total community that will for one reason or another start to abuse or misuse the program assistance, so that's unfortunate."

In the last four quarters, there have been about 140 cases of disqualification. A first time noncompliance offense results in a disqualification of 12 months, a second offense is two years and a third is banned for life whether on Guam or anywhere across the nation. And with millions of dollars being disbursed for the SNAP program, Damian says efforts need to be taken to crack down on the abuse.

For example, some states ban certain food item from being purchased to other proposals about drug testing, an effort that was even discussed a few years ago here on Guam. Damian agrees to an extent, telling KUAM News, "It's almost like a random drug testing: it's doesn't necessarily have to be 100%, but it would create a more awareness not to do that. If we get a call that says this individual should be investigated for drugs, then we need to take it upon ourselves to verify some of that."

As for Legislative Committee on Health chair Senator Dennis Rodriguez, Jr., he says the best way to crack down on the abuse is to get down to the root of the problem. "I'm not really looking at something that's punitive or punishes people, because it's really survival mode to these people, because what happens when you do drug test someone and they test positive, you take them off the rolls and it becomes a worst situation for them," he said. "If we're going to do that we have to make sure we have a good program that treats people with drug problems. I think it goes back to making sure we have alternatives for them."

In the meantime, Public Health's best way of monitoring the program aside from the reporting requirements is through complaints received by the community. You can report fraud and abuse by calling the KEHA Hotline at 735-7353.

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